“Find your backyard,” is one of many Harvey-isms. This one comes from his favorite children’s poet, James Stevenson: “Front yards are boring. Backyards tell stories.” With his “backyard” stories, Harvey Ovshinsky has been a pathfinder and guide during his five-decade career that straddles print, broadcast, digital, the big screen and the classroom.
In 1965, Ovshinsky then 17, heard hardly anything about teenagers or black people. There was practically nothing written about the anti-war movement or poor people or women’s issues, unless it was on the society pages.
So he started The Fifth Estate, the country’s oldest surviving “underground” newspaper in the country. Writing with purpose and passion, in the the style of Tom Wolfe and what others later called New Journalism, the Fifth Estate reported on local anti-war and civil rights protests, the growing feminist movements, and the innovative works of area poets, artists and musicians such as Chuck and Joni Mitchell, and the Cass Corridor artists such as Brenda Goodman.
At 22, Ovshinsky became the first news director of Detroit’s alternative radio station at WABX-FM and a talk show host. He broadcast hour-long coverage of the Goose Lake Music Festival, the Balduck and Memorial Park riots between young people and the police, and John Kerry’s Winter Soldier investigation into alleged war crimes by U.S. troops.
He moved into television at WXYZ-TV and went on to produce documentaries for local and national broadcasts on difficult subjects such as youth violence, politics and race, and young people and depression. He continues to hold production workshops and storytelling seminars to generations of budding journalists at several universities.
Ovshinsky has received many awards including 15 regional Emmys, a national Emmy, a Peabody and a DuPont-Columbia University Award Silver Baton and multiple film festival recognitions, in addition to being nominated for an Oscar.
“Harvey finds his best work in Detroit, not Hollywood,” wrote the Metro Times. “With all of his success,” wrote Metromode, “he still works out of the basement office. And he isn’t leaving anytime soon.”